Years ago, long before the advent of drones, Charles Benton pioneered a technique of taking aerial images of the San Francisco Bay Area using a small camera affixed to a kite.
Benton, who teaches environmental design at the University of California at Berkeley, is one of three artists whose work is featured by EIWIL, a new eco-inspired apparel brand that combines photography and philanthropy. Short for Enjoy It While It Lasts, the name is also a “nod to the ephemerality of life and our planet.”
Benton’s images of the South Bay’s Cargill Salt Ponds now appear on EIWIL’s sweatshirts — the bold, bright colors look more like paintings of outer space than photographs of Earth.
“He didn’t take them for fashion photography or Instagram,” explains Justin Stankiewicz, EIWIL’s 32-year-old founder, who first happened upon Benton’s striking, multi-layered photographs during a late-night Google search.
The sweatshirts, sold exclusively online, cost $69, with a portion of each sale benefiting individual artists and respective charities. Every piece (EIWIL also designs tote bags and scarves) is hand-assembled near Charlotte, N.C. For each of Benton’s designs (13 different sweatshirts are available), 5 percent will benefit the National Resources Defense Council and the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.
The summer after graduating from the University of Chicago, Stankiewicz, a Chicago native, moved to New York City and started working in the notoriously cutthroat world of high-end fashion. “When I started in the industry, I didn’t feel like I was an insider,” he says. “I didn’t dress well and I was almost looked down upon.”
After a decade spent working on the business side at Akris, Carolina Herrera and Giambattista Valli, Stankiewicz had amassed a sizable savings by “scrimping during the week and limiting dinners out.”
Wanting to eventually strike out on his own, Stankiewicz purchased EIWIL’s URL five years ago, uncertain of what was to come. Specifically, he wanted to create something that was reflective of his values. And after last November’s election of President Trump, a newfound desire to give something back.
Besides Benton’s photographs, EIWIL also features work by Zane Jones and Angeliki Jackson, two New York artists. A portion of their designs will benefit transgender rights, cancer research and arts education organizations, among other nonprofits.
Starting new companies is stressful; EIWIL is no exception. For the past two months, Stankiewicz has been in a near-constant state of panic, his shoulder blades glued to the back of his head. He self-funded EIWIL’s launch, and is now meeting with investors, eager to devise its next iteration.
For instance, with more resources at his disposal, Stankiewicz would experiment with using more sustainable materials. Currently, the sweatshirts are made of polyester since the technology used to transfer the photographs onto cotton proved too costly. “They’re great for athleisure,” Stankiewicz explains of the antimicrobial, fleece material that also “doesn’t smell.”
While luxury fashion brands frequently build advertising campaigns that flaunt unattainable lifestyles, EIWIL intends to attract a different consumer by embracing diversity. For its first set of images, shot over the summer, Stankiewicz hired models that are albino, black and Chinese. “Half the models are gay, and the red-headed guy is a dancer,” he says. “Oh, and the model who looks like Ivanka Trump is actually German and Polish.”
Amanda M. Fairbanks is a freelance writer in Marin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.